Michael Chapman Pachyderm Blast First Petite PTYT 070
Old white blues guy from Hunslet. Bona fide genius
The ever-amazing Michael Chapman, one of the select breed of ace Yorkshire guitarists (see Mick Ronson and Bill Nelson), is on a roll these days with plenty of shows, a tribute disc in his honour and a seemingly endless supply of fresh music and recent projects to bolster his seventh decade.
This middle part of a trilogy including The Resurrection And Revenge Of The Clayton Peacock and Polarbear is an astoundingly agreeable slab of sonic minimalism based around a fat and sumptuous guitar chord, taken to careful ambient extremes. Divided into an acoustic original paired with Robert Antony’s electronic remix, the hypnotic effect might be classified as folk system sound, though lovers of Philip Glass and Popol Vuh may detect influences from the African plains.
Suggestive of a man with a restless mind and traveller’s spirit, Pachyderm could have the exact opposite influence on the listener as Chapman provides the perfect accompaniment to a wind-down. Given that his music has always operated on a dual process of challenge while having the ability to soothe, this has undeniable medicinal properties. One of the greatest pleasures of the year
Max Bell Record Collector 12/2012
Michael Chapman The Resurrection and Revenge of the Clayton Peacock Blast First Petite PTYT068CD
The last time anyone checked Michael Chapman was a forgotten 1970's songwriter, but American revisionists, citing his guitar instrumentals have found a lost folk-blues primitvist in the John Fahey vein. Nothing in the Yorkshire troubadour's catalogue presaged these two two lengthy electric guitar drones, buoyed on throbbing loops and serrated with scratchy noise, the first a low end rumble the second a high end Himalayan temple-bell tingle. The kids get a new cult figure and grandad gets to play loud and tour with the noisy new boy Dean McPhee. Everybody's happy.
Sunday Times 12.02.12
|Underground veteran Michael Chapman’s new recording bucks the traditions of solo guitar work with extended experiments in multi-layered improvisation. By Edwin Pouncey
The Resurrection And Revenge Of The
Ecstatic Peace! LP
Even if you’re familiar with the Yorkshire
born composer, singer, guitarist and self
confessed maverick troubadour Michael
Chapman, this recording comes as
something of a shock. The music here is
unlike anything he has crafted before – he
casts adrift his skills as a songwriter and
focuses on improvisation.
Listen to Chapman’s recently reissued
Fully Qualified Survivor, one of the key
documents of his work in the 1970s
underground, and you get a sense of just
how different this record is. Originally
released on Harvest, Survivor was
instrumental in making Chapman’s voice
accessible to a larger audience – John
Peel championed his song “Postcards Of
Scarborough” on his Top Gear radio show,
and named Chapman as one of his favourite
solo performers. Chapman’s style was
personal and straightforward, where he
could sing a melancholic song or unravel
a soul-tugging instrumental without
smothering it with false sentiment. But
Survivor also adventurously incorporated
string arrangements, glam rock guitar,
congas, sound effects and fingerpicked
acoustic guitar mantras into the mix,
confounding any supposed notion that he
belonged to the established British folk
tradition – or any tradition for that matter.
The Resurrection And Revenge Of The
Clayton Peacock moves out even further.
The seed for this new direction germinated
in Philadelphia last year, at a tribute
concert for his late friend and fellow
guitarist Jack Rose, where Chapman was
appearing. After his set he was approached
|backstage by Ecstatic Peace! and asked if
he had entertained the notion of recording
an album of improvised guitar. Chapman
accepted the challenge. While contemporary
players as Bert Jansch, Davy Graham,
Harvest labelmate Roy Harper and John
Martyn have all taken their music beyond
the limitations of formal song structure to
some degree, Chapman plunges straight
into the deep end with an album’s worth of
The title is a reverential nod to John
Fahey’s instrumental “The Death Of The
Clayton Peacock” which appeared on his
1965 album The Transfiguration Of Blind
Joe Death, and the album carries a finely
detailed engraving of a male peacock and
his mate pasted on the front cover and a
Posada woodcut of Death holding a guitar
on the back. It might be assumed that the
two side-length pieces are in the spirit of
Fahey’s later ‘industrial’ work, or perhaps
a salute to the tapping that Rose would
summon from his guitar as if making contact
with the Delta dead. But whatever the
inspiration, the sounds and styles here are
solely of Chapman’s own invention.
The resurrection opens with a lowing
feedback howl from his electric guitar
that intensifies in pitch until it reaches an
anguished scream. Beneath this he layers
echoing pulsations, string manipulation
and rhythmic neck-knocking as he probes
every facet of his instrument to tease out
a fresh sound or effect. It’s light years
away from his usual working methods, and
the feeling comes across that Chapman
is as surprised (and delighted) as the
listener to hear the waves of energy he
lets loose from his instrument. As the
feedback flurries subside Chapman sinks
into a dark blues meditation, a cavernous sequence of bowed, strummed and plucked
reverberations, sparsely illuminated by
flickering trails of cosmic fingerpicking
The spell is broken – or enhanced – with
the intrusion of an overdubbed beat that
cruises by at the end of the piece, which
sounds something like the neighbours
have inadvertently turned up their bass
heavy sound system. The resulting blur
of improvisational guitar playing and
something akin to primitive dubstep mesh
together for a near perfect landing.
Skeletal guitar remains the dominant
instrument on the record’s second side,
but other instruments float over and under
it in the mix. This is improvisation across a
whole range of instruments, with Chapman
moving out from behind the guitar to play
with a whole palette of timbres – gamelan
singing bowls, an African thumb piano
and more percussion – a sonic attempt to
replicate the luxuriant tail of the peacock,
perhaps? Beginning with a slowly escalating
metallic drone and singing bowl, the
mood becomes more ethereal than the
desolate darkness that haunted the first
side, with Chapman playing his acoustic
guitar like a zither – pecking, rather than
plucking, at the strings as the tinkling of
the bowls chimes behind him. After a brief,
somewhat disjointed, thumb piano solo,
Chapman returns to his electric guitar, still
accompanied by the ringing orchestra of
bowls, but with the addition of a steadily
pounding hand drum. As on the first side,
drum and guitar flow formlessly into each
other and become as one. Chapman’s interpretation of the peacock’s revenge is not quite as dramatic or involved as its resurrection, but the iridescence of the playing that shimmers through both these pieces is dazzling.
Wire Magazine 2011
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Michael Chapman – The Resurrection and Revenge of the Clayton Peacock
It was at a Jack Rose tribute gig in Philadelphia that the idea for this album was first mooted – Ecstatic Peace approached Chapman backstage and asked if he would record a limited print run improvised album for them. He agreed, and The Resurrection and Revenge of the Clayton Peacock is the result – two tracks, a running time of 38 minutes, and a sonic adventure that comes from the far side of the experimental guitar underground.
The Resurrection and Revenge of the Clayton Peacock (a reference to the track ‘The Death of the Clayton Peacock’ on John Fahey’s The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death) is, unbelievably, Chapman’s first improv album to which the legitimate response seems to be, “where has this come from?” Chapman’s life and work, despite its scope of influence and its always oddly marginalised status, has been undergoing something of a critical reappraisal of late with the re-releases of some of his classic early albums and vocal support from underground figures such as the aforementioned and now deceased Jack Rose, Tom Carter and Thurston Moore; but still, none of that really prepares you for such a strange and other sounding album.
Inevitably when confronted with a rupture of this nature, there’s an impulse towards investigation and speculation: to determine a piece’s provenance or examine the motivation behind the creation; to go looking in the artist’s catalogue for clues, or even delving into referenced source material – in this case the suppressed howl of the referenced Fahey original. Chapman’s work to date has covered a range of styles, but in the main he’s tended to concentrate on limpid finger-picked ragtime-inflected traditionals and originals, and more straight ahead folk rock and all-out rock. You might advance a theory that this improv space is the sound of the interstices between these forms, or is something like the sonic outfall of precisely these years of working with form.
And the two tracks that make up …Peacock are all about this notion of an improv space, creating a cavernous theatre into which Chapman threads tendrils of piped silver, or pours billowing contrails of feedback, the latter stages of which indelibly mark themselves out as bird calls, bird shrieks. All the while the inner ear searches for purchase, for familiar Chapman tropes and landmarks. And the truth is, they simply aren’t there. What you’re left with is a feeling that you’ve borne witness to a rite, an invocation.
The assumption is that Chapman must have been experimenting privately with this kind of sound for a number of years, or in the very least had been comfortable with the very idea of improvising in such a minimal yet abandoned fashion – the recourse to singing bowls and mbira in the second track (the ‘Revenge’) were presumably results of previous experiments. Listening to this in the dead of night, I had intimations of the occult, of a kind of spectral channelling – of what I’m not sure. But wilder flights led me to wonder if this was a comment on the end of things, the wasteland at the end of the tradition, or maybe the primal mulch from which it grew. It also felt as if it might be a glimpse into a musician’s fount or sacred space, the aural equivalent of peripheral vision, glimpses of sounds that may have drifted around Chapman for years, waiting exactly for this moment of channelling.
There’s an aside to all this and it’s around the usual rhetoric of age and creativity. Chapman has released upwards of 35 albums since his debut in 1969, which is a remarkable figure in itself; but to have suddenly found this new direction so late in the day, and to have inhabited it with such dexterity and force gives the game a whole different arc. If it wasn’t already so explicitly linked to Fahey you’d wonder if that most haunted and most haunting of figures had found some way of re-incarnating his damn(ed) self. The Resurrection and Revenge of the Clayton Peacock is an astounding bell peal, you should seek it out, now.
Michael Chapman – The Resurrection And Revenge Of The Clayton Peacock
Who says that an artist needs to slow down as he ages? For Yorkshire, England’s Michael Chapman, the golden years have been his busiest years. Although he began his musical career in 1969 with an album entitled Rainmaker, released on the Harvest label, and was a fixture on the folk club scene, he’s gone well beyond the constraints of that genre, remarking to audiences that, “I ain’t no fucking folk singer” and proceeding to pierce eardrums and open minds with his latest release, The Resurrection And Revenge Of The Clayton Peacock, issued this year on the Blast First (CD version) and Ecstatic Peace (LP version) labels.
The album’s title is a reference to the John Fahey record The Death Of The Clayton Peacock. Yet the music on Chapman’s album serves to distance itself from Fahey’s acoustic guitar sounds as much as the title announces an opposing take on what can be accomplished on guitar, in Chapman’s case an electric guitar with scads of effects. The end result lies somewhere between a Grateful Dead Space Jam, the recent live work of Robert Fripp, and the very early recordings of Steve Tibbetts. Chapman’s account of The Clayton Peacock consists of two lengthy and untitled pieces, one 21 minutes in length and the other 17 minutes long.
Multiple overdubs, drifting and stinging atmospheric drones, occasional sparse percussion, and persistent bell tones wend their way through the speakers to hypnotic effect. If you can imagine the alternate tunings and stylings of Sonic Youth six-stringers Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo slowed down and stacked atop one another, you’ll have a good understanding of Chapman’s current approach. If you’re looking for some sort of rock and roll hoopla, you won’t find it here. Yet the album is far too engaging to work as background music. The harsh tones and smoking, vibrating echo chamber touches let Chapman claw his way to the fore of your attention. It will thus be a bit too sedate for listeners who need to experience a four on the floor beat in order to get excited, but it will dazzle those of us that get off on original stabs at pulling unused noises from an amplifier.
Michael Chapman has been averaging better than one album a year so far in the 21st Century. He may have stayed out of the spotlight for the majority of his career, but he’s working like a possessed genius now that he’s in his 70s. He’s learned a hell of a lot over the decades and he’s suddenly decided to display that knowledge for all of us to experience. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with his work up until now, but The Resurrection And Revenge Of The Clayton Peacock has me extremely curious to dig into Chapman’s back catalog.
True musicians never stop doing their thing until they’re cold in the ground, and some, like Michael Chapman, lie low to find the opportune moment to rise from the dead and exact some revenge on the unsuspecting. He definitely caught me off guard and I’m rather thankful that he did.
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